The President called for a tighter regulation of International Schools, and in addition demanded that they teach Sinhala as a language, Sri Lanka’s History and also include Religion for their O level curriculum.
Let me tackle the issues one at a time as they can be classed as different viewpoints. With regard to tighter regulation, it is merely a politically motivated statement, understating the totally chaotic state to which the Public Education system has fallen, now resulting in the validity of exam results being questioned.
It is therefore very disingenuous of the President to demand regulation of this sector, most of which have been allowed to operate as BOI registered companies, that are run for profit.
In my opinion, all schools must be guided by a set of principles and the Public, Private and International sector have unique responsibilities peculiar to their status, as the first must ensure public funds are spent in a regulated manner, whilst the second, which also conforms to the rules of the department of education and offer local and foreign exams to a different set of rules. The International sector should also come under some basic rules of operation, mainly to protect the children from breaking local laws, and the parents from unscrupulous operators who make demands on fees and deposits unrelated to the normal business practices of a school. IT IS NOT in the interest of the International Schools to come under the same regulations for public schools, as no public money is involved, except the conferring of BOI status that nevertheless gives them tax exempt status, that bestows accountability towards the body granting this status.
Taking the second point, where Sinhala is deemed a necessary subject, I do not think it is practical as there will be a list of exemptions of pupils who qualify. It must be offered to parents who wish their children to go to International Schools, primarily due to the poor quality of the public education system, and would nevertheless wish their children to learn the local language.
So it MUST be an optional available subject that MUST be offered at all schools to satisfy a basic requirement of local students. As these schools conduct their classes in English, one would also expect Tamil to be offered. These latter two requirements are bound to increase the costs of these schools, and therefore fees. There is no such thing as painless. All the suggestions include costs, all of which will be passed on to the pupil. I am sure the President in making the statements, did not consider this inevitability! A practical outlook should further refine the requirements.
Whilst saying that the Govt. must put the State Education system in order before venturing into the realms of international schools, that is not to say that at the same time regulation that is basic must still be applied to this sector, which educates Sri Lankan children, and there are basic norms we require from our youngsters.
The issue with regards to teaching Sri Lankan history is rich when considering the total ignorance of state school kids about history due to the nature in which this subject is taught. If the state school history subject is re-evaluated to one that is not politically biased, then an element of Sri Lankan History should be included, but as the O levels are not offered in those subjects, it is moot whether it is practical, with none taking it up as a subject and schools offering, dropping it for lack of demand!
When it comes to making religion compulsory, I am personally against it, as one who did not offer religion at O levels. In my opinion, religion MUST be restricted even in state schools to the Sunday School education of children to follow their own religion. Offering a very structured by rote O level, actually removes religious teaching in schools today, to merely knowing facts to pass exams, and not practice of faith, teaching morality, behavior and following customs, which are the cornerstone in the practice of most religions.
Forcing state school children to offer religion in Sri Lanka today, does not make them better human beings in society, and further restricts the knowledge they can gain in schools, from the core subjects a student should learn during his school days. Religion is one that can be refined and updated even after one’s schooling and offers advantages to some religions over others in the ease of their knowledge further destabilizing the playing field currently destabilized depending on the language the student offers at O levels as his principle fluency.
I gather that a lobby group has been set up to tackle the politically biased attack by the President, but clearly disturbing the International Schools, galvanizing them into action. I presume that the President was goaded into making these statements as a result of the seemingly unassailable advantage conferred on them, by default by the parlous state of the Public Education system in which parents have completely lost faith. If they now cannot put their children into private schools, they have only the International Schools to turn to.
Now that prestigious state schools are prohibitively expensive to put children into, even the cost of these international schools in some instances are not that much higher when considering all the other costs, of transport, tuition and sundries demanded. Let us hope this debate presumes the best interest of the student at heart and not other agendas.